The escalation of retiring mainframe software developers has exposed a skills shortage around which many companies have neglected to formulate a responsive recruitment strategy for hiring Millennial developers, the next generation of mainframers.

When people ask us what we’ve done over the last five years to build our Millennial mainframe workforce to 20 percent with a zero turnover rate, we tell them the story of our journey of ensuring a steady stream of new hires to fill the ranks of retiring developers. The approach we took, what we did and continue to do, looks something like this:

  • Define the problem. Your experts are retiring and you lack replacements
  • Strategize an approach. Millennials aren’t coming to you, so go to them.
  • Educate Millennials. Mainframe education is scarce–create your own awareness.
  • Learn the right way to onboard. Use timing, training and mentorship.
  • Grow your Millennial workforce. Once moving, keep recruiting, watch it grow.

Because this story matters for our company and our customers, we feel compelled to elaborate on what exactly we’ve done to mitigate the impact of the mainframe skills shortage at Compuware. We hope the insights we share in this short blog series help you understand how you can get on the path to recruiting a new generation of mainframe developers for your company. To start, we’ll dive into how Compuware discovered the issue of a dwindling mainframe workforce, and the strategy we developed to combat it.

Define the Problem: How to Stop the Mainframe Skills Shortage

The problem of a growing mainframe skills shortage is evident, but a subsequent challenge is determining the best ways for finding and hiring Millennial developers to replace your retiring experts. As it stands, every company on the mainframe faces this dilemma, but how quickly and strategically a company reacts defines the difference between managing success and managing decline.

Five years ago, we sat down and looked at our situation from a human resources perspective. We expected a large percentage of our mainframe developers to hit the age of retirement over the next five to seven years. While our math was speculative (many developers continue working past retirement age), the discovery prompted us to enact a recruitment strategy that would enable us to replace the retiring workforce as attrition accelerated, and handle it in a way that would give new recruits time to become educated enough to do their new jobs well.

However, we soon discovered another issue: Millennials are woefully unaware of the mainframe’s importance—or even its existence. We couldn’t expect a new generation of developers to be pining for retiring mainframe experts’ jobs over developing new mobile apps and video games. Instead, we had to approach them and show them why mainframe development is a worthwhile career path.

Strategize an Approach: Hiring Millennial Developers

There’s an egregious drought of mainframe education in American academics. A small number of colleges and universities provide courses on the mainframe, but the majority lack academic support. This paints an ugly picture of the platform as old and obsolete. Understandably, most Millennial developers take an interest in distributed development instead.

We disregarded any wishful thinking that a throng of Millennial developers would by chance find themselves at our Detroit headquarters with an innate interest in coding COBOL. Rather, we took action and began seeking out our next generation of mainframe developers.

We chose eight schools—some that taught the mainframe, some that didn’t—where we began attending career fairs, talking to career services departments and meeting with professors. Through the course of these tactics, we determined a smaller number of specific schools we could focus our efforts towards due to the schools’ numbers of students interested in mainframe development, as well as their more mainframe-inclusive curriculums.

But we knew simply showing up and touting ourselves as a mainframe software leader wasn’t going to get developers fresh out of final exams in front of computer screens developing software for us. We needed to educate students that the mainframe is the most secure, reliable and powerful computing platform available to enterprises.

When our journey towards mitigating the mainframe skills shortage at our company began, we defined the problem of an impending skills gap; we realized the next generation of developers wasn’t going to come to us, and that we needed to go to them; and we created a plan for how we should begin reaching out to them, which involved doing a lot of educating on college campuses.

In the next post of this series, we’ll move deeper into how we initially went about educating Millennial developers on the campuses we targeted.

Does your company have a strategy in place for filling mainframe jobs with the next generation of mainframe developers? Get more information about what steps you should be taking here, or read the posts in this series:

Photo by Liv Martin and Chad Morgan